Today's Papers

Commence the Offense

The papers lead with President Bush’s commencement speech to graduates at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY, where Bush contrasted the military strategies of last century—containment, deterrence, etc.—with the U.S. military’s present need to take “preemptive action when necessary.” The papers all headline Bush’s remarks rather forcefully, boldfacing “BUSH ISSUES CALL TO ACTION” ( Los Angeles Times), “US MUST ACT FIRST TO BATTLE TERROR, BUSH TELLS CADETS” ( New York Times), and “BUSH: U.S. WILL STRIKE FIRST AT ENEMIES” ( Washington Post). The WP goes the furthest in reading Bush’s remarks as the beginning outlines of a new foreign policy doctrine, writing in the second paragraph that “Bush’s new description of his foreign policy … sharply revised the positions he took as a candidate …” and in the sixth paragraph that Bush’s words “would dictate a fundamental shift in how the military thinks about warfare.” (Read the full text of Bush’s speech.) Bush never mentions Iraq by name, but does say that “containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies,” The papers pick that as a reference to Iraq. The NYT writes, in fact, that the speech “seemed aimed at preparing Americans for a potential war with Iraq.” A senior administration official later said that Bush “has no war plans on his desk.” The LAT ends its speech story on a lighter note. Bush’s commencement warm-up was supposed to be a congratulatory address piped from a private office in New York to a breast-cancer charity race in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, this speech Bush delivered never made it past the nearby press room. When interrupted by a White House telecommunications technician late in his remarks, Bush reportedly remarked, “What are you talking about? They dropped the call? You mean, I haven’t, they haven’t heard a word yet? God dang-it.” A later attempt to rebroadcast merited an image of Bush speaking … but no sound. All three papers front insider analysis on the FBI’s attempt to reorganize itself in light of disclosures in recent weeks that the FBI had missed warning signals prior to Sept. 11. Interestingly, FBI director Robert Mueller gives an interview to the NYT and declines one to the WP. It’s the NYT, however, which writes an almost bullet-point list of why FBI reorganization might not be enough, citing issues such as the agency’s rocky relationship with field offices, Congress, and the CIA. The WP, meanwhile, writes that “Mueller may have finished the week in a stronger position than where he started it,” saying that his “comportment under fire” and “willingness to admit mistakes” have been winning praise from both adversaries and critics. The WP fronts a new air danger: private airplane charters. The paper points out that passengers on these flights get no security screening at most U.S. airports. While commercial airline traffic fell 10 percent last January, the 1,453 charter operators that fly 7,102 aircrafts, according to one survey, saw their business rise 10 percent in that same period. The latest news from the India-Pakistan front—the LAT being the only one to front it—is that the U.N., following the U.S.’s lead Friday, is urging its staffers in the region to send their families home. Meanwhile, in an interview the papers pick up from CNN, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf downplays the nuclear threat, saying that “any sane individual cannot even think of going into this unconventional war, whatever the pressures.” The NYT casts a wide survey of Africa and finds that the continent is becoming more democratic. Since 1990, 42 of 48 sub-Saharan African nations have held multi-party elections, compared to only four in the early ‘80s. Then again, the paper finds that Africans are living with deteriorating living standards, declining per capita income, and rising unemployment.. A scrawl upon a Nigerian wall in a burned-out neighborhood reads, “”Is this the dividend of democracy we are talking about?” The LAT fronts the first of a two-part series looking into civilian casualties from the American bombing campaign over Afghanistan. Today’s tale focuses on the physical and emotional toll of the bombings, prompting discussions of U.S. reparations. Equally likely to provoke debate is the paper’s analysis of the civilian casualty number. The paper teases the issue here—the second part will supposedly flesh out the analysis—saying it looked into 2,000 media reports of civilian casualties, and “identified” just 194 incidents. The LAT also includes another story—this one inside—on Afghanistan, detailing the country’s love affair with the five-year-old American film Titanic. Seen inside the country: a 132-pound cake in the shape of the doomed ship, men who wear the hair in the style of Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic shampoo, Titanic perfumes, Titanic vests, Titanic belts, Titanic shoes, Titanic mosaics … All this and an estimated half of the population has yet to see the film. A man by the name of Siddiq Barmak gives the LAT the holy grail of quotes: “I think there is a lot in common with the fate of Afghanistan and the Titanic. We’re looking for a way to rescue ourselves,” he said.